Inspiration · Leadership

Mistakes oft repeated

Paolo Coelho suggests “a mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” And he’s definitely on to something.

Of course, sometimes mistakes are an intentional part of our path toward learning, innovation, growth. That’s called experimentation–and if failure is not an option then neither is success.

On the other hand, when we repeat destructive–or just plain foolish–behaviors, it’s often our unconscious habits taking over. The key here is mindful awareness and realizing that our fear doesn’t have to rule the roost. We always have a choice.

I like what Portia Nelson has to say about this in her “Autobiography In Five Short Chapters”

Chapter One

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost . . . I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault . . .

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in this same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there.

I still fall . . . it’s a habit . . . but,

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership

“We’ve read enough books”

Last week in a private speech to congressional interns, presidential son-in-law (and, given his wide-ranging set of responsibilities, apparent superhuman) Jared Kushner was asked how he will fix the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite decades of failures on the part of experienced diplomats.

His answer? “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”

To which I say, “Uh, no you haven’t” and “who cares?”

Perhaps you’ve seen the New Yorker magazine cartoon that depicts a man standing before two doors, seemingly confused about which to go through. One door is labeled “Heaven” and the other is labeled “Books About Heaven.”

And while the religious example may not resonate with everyone, the metaphor is apt, our choices are clear. Knowledge is necessary. Doing is what counts.

Read the book. Or have the actual experience.

Stay in the stands, rendering judgment. Or be the person in the arena.

On the shore. Or in the boat.

Gathering knowledge. Or doing the work.

 

Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership

Nobody should care how much golf we play

Or how many cakes we bake, how much TV we watch, how often we go to the gym or whatever happens to floats our boats or simply pass the time, so long as…

…we honor our most important commitments…

…our words match out actions…

…we take responsibility for our stuff and stay on our side of the street…

…we act instead of complain…

…we are in the arena, instead of watching and judging from the stands.

It turns out individuals, organizations and brands get cut a fair amount of slack and earn many degrees of freedom when they do the work, eschew hypocrisy and can be trusted to show up when it counts the most.

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Inspiration · Leadership · Uncategorized

Lasting peach

The Trump administration’s issues with spelling are “unpresidented.” Here’s a brief history, which doesn’t even include yesterday’s announcement of “John” Huntsman as the new ambassador to Russia.

To be sure, Trump’s problems with spelling and diction are hardly the scariest things about his Presidency.  But any important relationship is built on trust. And sometimes it’s the little things that give us away.

Imagine boarding a plane and as you pass by the cockpit you notice candy wrappers strewn about the floor and that the captain has his shirt untucked and shoelaces untied.

Imagine you are doing some financial planning and your advisor has gotten the time of your appointment wrong the last three times you were scheduled to meet.

Imagine you are being prepped for surgery and the anesthesiologist keeps forgetting your name and can’t seem to remember where she left her glasses.

It’s all too easy to get distracted by small, unimportant stuff. And our obsession with perfectionism often does more harm than good. But some behaviors are small, yet meaningful clues to issues that demand our concern.

As long as we’re dealing with humans, mistakes will be made. We need to let most of that you-know-what go and strive to be compassionate to ourselves and others when the inevitable happens.

Yet a consistent pattern of general carelessness or wanton disregard for others can be another matter entirely and we shouldn’t take such an accommodating stance.

Ultimately learning to discern the types of mistakes to actually worry about is where we should put out attention.

I hope we all can make peach with that.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration · Leadership

The real enemy is delusion

If you are anything like me, you may feel attacked from time to time.

In those moments our enemy is the “idiot” that cut us off on the highway, the boss that doesn’t appreciate us enough, the guy we think is flirting with our girlfriend or maybe just the overall raw deal we think life has irritatingly bestowed upon us.

If we get to play on a bigger stage, perhaps we feel pilloried by our political opponents or the media.

If we work in a struggling organization, maybe we feel slighted by “unfair” legislation or competition that we think gets to play by different rules.

Real victimization does exist, of course. And those cases can be appalling, tragic and deserving of outrage and harsh consequences.

Yet we should be careful to distinguish between substantive and real attacks and those that we make up in our heads in an attempt to protect our egos or to distract us from the real, often challenging, work at hand.

When I blame others for my own struggles I am often avoiding uncomfortable truths about myself.

When the politician spends much of his time lashing out at others, he ignores the reality of his own accountability and power.

While it is convenient for the retail CEO to blame Amazon for her company’s woes, the company’s lack of innovation under her leadership is probably the real culprit.

Much of the time the truth is there if we are willing to look for it. And when we are willing to accept it and act on it, progress can be made.

Ultimately it serves precisely no one for us to fight battles over trivial stuff, particularly if they are with the wrong person. And a fight with reality has no winners.

To paraphrase Ajahn Chah, most of the time our real enemy is delusion.

h/t to Jack Kornfield

Being Remarkable · Innovation · Inspiration · Leadership

The next hill

How many times have we said that we want innovation, change, growth, maybe even a revolution?

Sometimes we express these hopes and desires for our organization or society writ large. Sometimes our intention is directed squarely at ourselves. Whatever the case, too often we talk a good game but actually do very little.

Fear is one problem. Anything truly worth doing involves risks. And putting ourselves out there, sharing our ideas, committing to make a real difference, doing the hard, uncomfortable work, can be scary. Of course much of this is pure imagination. As Mark Twain reminds us: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

The other problem is we greatly overestimate our ability to understand the future. And too often we think that our actions will lead to an easily predictable outcome. Too often we believe that with enough planning and analysis we can control the way forward. Too often without a clear view of all the steps to success we don’t even take the first one. Our illusion of control and our flawed gift of prophecy all contribute to our stuck-ness.

Having a precise map for our next road trip is a solid idea. But being attached to that notion for journeys of innovation and profound change is worthless. The way forward for personal and organizational transformation is fraught with twists and turns, ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. The moment we believe that before we can begin we need to be able to see our way clear to the end is the moment paralysis starts to set in.

Along our path, personal or otherwise, we will be climbing a series of hills. When we reach the top of each hill more will be revealed. What we couldn’t see from the base will now lay before us. We will have the lessons from our trek. We will have a clearer view of the landscape ahead. We will have the confidence gained from having successfully completed our hike.

It’s only complicated if we make it so.

Get pointed in the right direction.

Start moving.

Just make it to the next hill.

Recalibrate.

Rinse and repeat.

Being Remarkable · Leadership · Loyalty Marketing

Demanding loyalty

It seems rather natural to want loyalty. Maybe sometimes we even crave it or desperately feel as if we need it. From our employees. From our customers. From our friends or partner.

But as the boss, we shouldn’t think we have loyalty when conformance with our agenda–or praise from a parade of sycophants–is engendered out of fear of humiliation or termination.

As brand leaders, we shouldn’t claim we have loyal customers when the primary reason they buy our product is because we bribe them with endless discounts.

As someone in a personal relationship, we might deservedly expect loyalty, but if we only feel it exists when we threaten negative consequences we are merely kidding ourselves.

Loyalty is an emotion. And when deeply felt it can lead to our getting what we desire.

Loyalty is earned. Over time, through remarkable, relevant and consistent actions that build trust.

Demand loyalty all you want. If you aren’t getting it, don’t waste your time blaming your employees, customers or loved ones.

Our work is to get real, get accountable, and yes, get vulnerable. Loyalty is available to those that do the work and earn it.

 

Innovation · Leadership

The crushing force of retail insularity

Urban Outfitters is the latest retailer to be called out for the insularity of its board leadership. And rightly so. The lack of diversity, measured on just about every relevant dimension, has been a persistent and intractable issue for many large company boards.

It’s hard to imagine an industry that is more in need of outside, diverse and challenging perspectives than retail. New technology, shifting consumer desires and disruptive business models have been wracking the industry for more than a decade, with the pace of change only seeming to accelerate. We now face profit squeezes, layoffs, store closings and bankruptcies at unprecedented rates.

Yet few of the legacy retail brands being hammered (some to the point of extinction) by these seismic changes have done much, if anything, to bring in Directors with deep knowledge of the changing technology, business model and consumer landscape. I warned about this five years ago, spurred on mostly by noting the appalling lack of relevant expertise on the J.C. Penney board to effectively challenge the reckless “hail Mary” strategy being promulgated by then CEO Ron Johnson. While clearly Penney’s needed to do something bold to get back on track, it should have been obvious how wrong-headed many of the ideas were. A stock that traded around $40 per share when Johnson started now trades at under $6.

The insularity on the part of corporate boards is but one issue plaguing traditional retail. The last two retailers I worked for as a senior executive, as well as many of the consulting clients I have advised, suffer mightily from a culture of insularity that extends beyond board composition. Show me an organization that is losing customer relevance (and resultant market share) and chances are you’ve shown me a company that is inwardly focused on process, budget allocations, cost reduction and intramural warfare between rival internal factions. These brands know appallingly little about the competition and potentially game-changing technology. They lack deep and actionable customer insight. Mostly, they are paralyzed by analysis and unwilling to take the risks that today’s fast-moving retail industry demands.

Extreme insularity within retail organizations is, arguably, the single biggest barrier to a brand making the changes necessary to thrive, must less survive, in what some call the “retail apocalypse.” Providing leadership opportunities (board or otherwise) to folks with diverse backgrounds is, in my mind, a moral imperative. But more than that, it is just smart business. Action must be taken, not just lip service. As Jack Kornfield reminds us: “The trouble is you think you have time.”

urbanoutfitters-storefront

A version of this story recently appeared at Forbes, where I am a retail contributor. You can check out more of my posts and follow me here.  

Innovation · Leadership

Premature celebration

Imagine the lead runner in a marathon stopping at Mile 6, throwing his arms up in the air, engaging in a series of high fives and a receiving a dousing of champagne.

Imagine your Captain coming over the loudspeaker to welcome you to London while your plane is still over the middle of the Atlantic.

Imagine spiking the football a yard before you’re actually in the end zone.

Imagine a bunch of legislators taking a victory lap for transforming one sixth of the US economy without any impact data and well before a law has actually been passed. Well, I guess that’s not so hard to imagine.

But I digress.

Your cool entrepreneurial concept is not the same as an actual viable business.

My idea for a book is far from a published manuscript. And all those blog drafts I have saved? So what, who cares?

Unless it ships, it might as well not exist.

To be fair, we have to start somewhere. And until we’ve started, we remain stuck in intention, wishes, hopes and dreams. So good on you for launching, for taking that first step, for putting yourself out there.

So, sure, let’s feel good about our progress along the way. Appreciating the journey and enjoying the ride is important. But let’s refrain from declaring victory until we’ve made a real difference in the world.

It turns out, if it’s important, people will remember what you did.

And trust is a very hard thing to win back.

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Inspiration · Leadership

We over me

The other day President Trump talked about how “my military” was successful in carrying out a bombing run.

Regardless of how one feels about the merits of taking military action, or which side of the aisle you happen to sit on politically, it’s hard to imagine a leader who deserves less credit for the strength and skills of the US armed forces. It’s also shocking in its failure to recognize who foots the bill. Criticism was deservedly fast and furious.

Contrast that with superstar golfer Jordan Spieth (who, by the way, is nearly 50 years younger than Trump). It’s rare for Spieth to not say “we” when talking about his play. In fact, the times when he tends to use “I” or “me” are when he hasn’t played particularly well. In a sport which is highly individualistic, he is quick to credit his team; to value the we over me.

Of course, we drive every day on roads we didn’t pave.

We sit in offices we didn’t build.

We use an internet we didn’t design and don’t maintain.

Almost of all us eat food we neither planted, nor tended,  nor picked, nor hauled to the store.

It’s easy to be selfish, to value the me over we.

And often harder to give credit where credit is due.

Harder still, it seems, to be grateful for all all we have whether we deserve it or worked for it or had it fall into our laps by luck or some measure of grace.